Bourbon Empire Book Summary By Reid Mitenbuler

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Bourbon Empire (2015) is the ultimate guide to understanding the history of America's beloved corn-based whiskey.

Authored by award-winning author Reid Mitenbuler, it takes readers on an exploration of bourbon's past filled with stories of struggles, triumphs and even political intrigue.

From Prohibition to competition from overseas spirits, discover how this tipple has not only survived but made its mark in American culture and politics.

Get your hands on this book today and learn about everything you need to know about bourbon – its origins, production methods, cocktails and even its financing.

With Bourbon Empire (2015), readers can be sure that they will have an informative and entertaining journey into America’s national spirit.

Bourbon Empire

Book Name: Bourbon Empire (The Past and Future of America's Whiskey)

Author(s): Reid Mitenbuler

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 14 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Reid Mitenbuler is the author of the book, The Bourbon Empire.

He currently resides in New York and writes about whiskey and the US drinking culture for Slate, Whiskey Advocate, Saveur and The Atlantic.

This book marks Reid's first time writing a full-length book devoted to this topic.

Reid has a deep understanding of the history, production and culture of whiskey - an education he studied while researching his book.

His understanding makes him an invaluable source when it comes to learning more about this fascinating topic.

With that being said, you're guaranteed an informative and entertaining read with all the facts you could want.

Discover The Long And Gritty History Of Bourbon – From Bootleggers To Bureaucrats

History Of Bourbon

With Bourbon Empire, you’ll learn the history behind America’s iconic whiskey – a spirit that is inextricably linked to the culture of this great nation.

You’ll discover the conditions necessary for whiskey to officially be classified as bourbon and why, when the British retreated from American shores, rum dried up and bourbon became popular.

You’ll also find out how the US government actually tried to poison the nation’s thirst for booze – and failed!

Immerse yourself in sections about bootleggers, bureaucrats and blue-collar workers who were all fueled by bourbon.

You will even become an informed bourbon expert after reading this book!

So pour yourself a glass of bourbon and dive into this exciting journey back in time to discover the true American spirit.

The Politics Behind The Rise Of Bourbon: From A Frontier Spirit To An International Beverage

Bourbon whiskey is an iconic part of American culture and a vivid representation of our nation’s storied history.

What sets this type of whiskey apart from all the others is its special classification status, which was made law in 1964.

This regulation states that bourbon must be produced in the U.S.; it must contain at least 51 percent corn; and it must be aged in new oak barrels.

These rules were established by Lewis Rosenstiel, head of one of the largest liquor companies in the United States.

Through his lobbying efforts and the sending of bourbon to US embassies overseas, he solidified bourbon’s place as an internationally renowned spirit with distinctly American characteristics.

The long-standing legacy of Bourbon also extends to North America, where whiskey was being consumed by frontier soldiers as far back as the seventeenth century–albeit a crude version!

As settlers moved westward and new grains were added to this homemade concoction, what began as a flavourless liquid evolved into today’s beloved tipple.

The American Whiskey Industry: Big Business In Disguise

The bourbon market today is a great illustration of the fight between large and small businesses.

Big whiskey companies have been pushing out small, family-run stills since back in the eighteenth century.

This was evidenced when George Washington tried to introduce a tax on whiskey that would benefit big producers while harming smaller ones.

The protests were successful, and he gave up on the tax– which did not stop big companies from taking over the distilled spirits business.

Now, store shelves are packed with dozens of different whiskeys and bourbons, 75% of which are made by just four big producers: Beam, Schenley, Stitzel-Weller and Heaven Hill.

These four companies constantly battle for dominance in the market.

The reality is that even though there appear to be many small brands representing family run businesses or artisanal traditions, this is far from reality.

Companies are capitalizing on people’s desires to feel connected to past traditions and creating an illusion that they’re getting something truly individualized and disconnected from modern capitalism when really it’s quite otherwise.

This highlights how fierce competition can be between large corporate entities and smaller operations when it comes to products like whiskey – an industry deeply rooted in American history.

How Whiskey Became The Symbol Of American Independence


The history of bourbon began 400 years ago, when Captain George Thorpe became America’s first whiskey distiller.

He found his home in a Virginia swamp, where he developed this new tipple that tasted more like paint thinner than the bourbon we know today.

Though it was viewed as a cheap alternative to expensive Caribbean rum, which easily accessible sugar cane allowed people to trade as goods and get British-backed credit, gaining taxes for the government too.

Once the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, the supply of inexpensive rum vanished and with sugar imports cut off; it meant whiskey made with local ingredients suddenly grew in popularity, representative of national freedom.

In fact George Washington even had his own distillery producing 11,000 gallons each year!

A massive amount that showed just how long the love and appreciation for whiskey has lasted over the centuries.

The Dangers Of The Whiskey Ring And Prohibition: How An Era Of Corruption And Contamination Shook Up The American Whiskey Industry

The whiskey industry had grown to be a lucrative business, but it soon found itself plagued with increased criminality and declining quality.

Newspapers were filled with stories of whiskey being sold as a superior product disguised as a lower-grade one; bribery and tax evasion by producers; and the ever-reaching Whiskey Ring scandal, centered around President Ulysses S.

Grant’s own secretary Orville Babcock.

This decreasing act eventually led to Prohibition in 1920, banning the production or sale of alcoholic beverages for 13 years.

This was great for bootleggers, who took advantage of desperate people by providing them with low-quality moonshine that sometimes had easily avoidable poisoning added to it from the government.

And sadly, this resulted in an increase in alcohol-related deaths – about 4,000 per year by 1925.

When Prohibition finally ended, it took a long time for whiskey businesses to regain what they’d lost–both in reputability from criminal activity before it began and in high-quality products after its effects were over.

The lucrative whiskey industry survived these difficult times thanks to determined producers and drinkers alike, resulting in its triumphant return today.

How The Big Four Ushered In A New Era Of Whiskey After Prohibition

The Big Four took control of the whiskey industry upon the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

After this period of 13 years in which companies has been unable to sell alcohol legally, a large proportion of distilleries had simply gone out of business and those that attempted to restart their businesses afterwards often failed.

Those companies belonging to the Big Four happened to have the resources needed to gain a foothold on the market.

They were able to shut down their competitors and buy up or squeeze out any rival brands they found standing in their way.

Furthermore, they had the capital required to launch large-scale marketing campaigns, giving whiskey – previously seen as an undesirable, low-quality drink linked with violence and corruption – a much more refined image as a luxury drink for connoisseurs.

To deal with the shortage of whiskey due to its aging process, new styles were developed by distillers such as Stitzel-Weller using wheat, enabling them to produce lighter spirits quicker without having to age it as long.

How Bourbon Became A Global Luxury Drink Through Rebranding

Luxury Drink

When vodka first landed on the US market in 1946, bourbon was the preferred drink among blue-collar workers and soldiers.

However, vodka’s potential to be a more “hip” alternative to bourbon really began to take off with the rise of cocktail culture, and its attraction among young baby-boomers who wanted to avoid being seen as outdated quickly grew.

Soon enough, after just 30 years in the US market, vodka outsold traditional American spirit bourbon.

As sales were beginning to dip significantly, something had to be done in order to bring back buyers – and that is when Maker’s Mark distillery decided to reposition their product.

They turned what had been a domestic image into an international one – focusing solely on making it a luxury drink for those with discerning tastes around the globe.

This change of tactics proved successful for many other distilleries that followed suit.

Europeans became unaware of bourbon’s humble beginnings and considered it an imported spirit which drove sales.

This resulted in whiskey producers being able to sell their products at higher prices internationally.

Wrap Up

The final takeaway from “Bourbon Empire” is simple: embrace the moment and savor the remarkable history of bourbon.

From its humble beginnings to the worldwide phenomenon it has become today, this corn-based whiskey embodies America’s unique spirit.

The book outlines how it changed over time, yet still remained an aspirational product that can bring luxury and relaxation when enjoyed responsibly.

So if you want to connect with American history, grab yourself a high-quality bottle of bourbon and take some time out to appreciate it.

With many years of aging going into making an excellent bourbon, why not make a connection with the past while enjoying this premium spirit?

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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